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Insights from the Intersection of Childhood and Education

Friday, December 21, 2012

Students Teaching Students

Much learning happened as our 3rd and 4th graders embarked on studying different authors. Over the month-long unit they learned how to take notes about each author’s personal and professional life while reading biographical information online. They made timelines to show the intersection of their authors’ personal and professional lives. They wrote and edited their author study essays, using outlines they had made to keep their essays organized, and paragraph checklists to self edit before meeting with a teacher.

However, the most learning happened when they prepared for and held an author study fair for visitors and the rest of the school. The greatest learning, after all, happens when you’re teaching someone else! Besides, they had fun dressing up as characters from their authors’ books or emulating the authors themselves.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Happy Chanukah with the Chesed Club

The Torah gives us 613 Mitzvot (good deeds), and Akiba-Schechter’s Chesed Club provides our middle schoolers with the opportunity to consistently focus on acts of kindness and responsibility toward others.

Each week, club members from 5th to 8th grade meet to plan activities and identify opportunities to increase their involvement in Mitzvot that will benefit others. By taking the values from the classroom and putting them into action in the world at large, they are transforming themselves and making an impact in our school and our community.

When Hurricane Sandy hit, they put their other activities on hold and organized a coin drive to benefit the Mazel Day School in Brooklyn that was heavily damaged by the storm. Amazingly, they raised over $500 from collecting loose change. What better way to celebrate Chanukah than bringing a little light to a dank hallway in a flooded school! Happy Chanukah!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Why Grandparents & Special Friends Day is Important

We posted this article last November, but decided to share it again since it carries such an important message and we are celebrating Grandparents & Special Friends Day today.

Rivka Kahana, who teaches 3rd-8th Hebrew at Akiba-Schechter, reflects on her own experience of Grandparents Day, not only as a teacher, but as a grandparent:

Initially, when Akiba-Schechter started hosting Grandparents & Special Friends Day, I didn’t think much of it. We don’t have this in Israel where I grew up and was a young mother, so it was unfamiliar to me. I did not even consider attending it at my own grandchildren’s schools in Michigan and California because taking time off during the school year to travel is difficult as a teacher. However, on one of the first Grandparents & Special Friends Days at Akiba-Schechter, I was in my classroom, and as grandparents were filing in, I happened to be watching one student. I was worried because I knew his grandparents lived abroad and wouldn’t be able to come. Would he be left without a visitor? Then I saw his face light up and turned to see a man whom I knew briefly from the community enter the room. When I later asked this student who it was that had come for him, he was beaming as he told me: “He’s my special friend. He came for me.”

Then I felt bad for never having bothered about Grandparents Day. Clearly, it meant a lot to a child. So, when the next invitation for Grandparents Day at my grandchildren’s school arrived, I took the day off, and I went. Of course it was wonderful to experience their school day, and as a teacher, it was interesting to see how another Hebrew School or Jewish Day School operated, how other Hebrew teachers taught. But I did not expect how nice it would be to meet other grandparents, and to share experiences with them. Now I have made my own friends where my children live. I believe that events like these, that create bonds not only between generations, but also within each generation, are especially important here in America because they foster that sense of community that will continue our traditions.
As a grandparent, I realized that you come to Grandparents & Special Friends Day not only for the kids, but for yourself.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving brings with it many teachable moments and fun activities to celebrate gratitude and learn about early American history. Here, a turkey display made by our Kindergarten classes - its feathers showcase what the children are thankful for. Most listed their families or siblings, but here are some more unexpected things kids were thankful for:
"mac and cheese"
"my aunts and uncles" (spelled, very sweetly: "my ants and ankls")
"my fish"
"playing with my toys"
Three-year-olds in the Purple Room learned about the Pilgrims coming over on the Mayflower.
3rd and 4th graders created these beautiful teepees, complete with clothespin people to live in them.

Friday, November 9, 2012

10 Tips for Choosing a Day School

by Mindy Schiller
Director of Marketing, English and History teacher

Photo by Matt Dinerstein

So you've decided to send your child to a Jewish day school. Mazel tov! However, that decision was the easy part. Choosing which day school is the hard part. Following are tips on how to look beyond each school's PR speak and determine which one is the best fit for your child and your family.

Spend a day at the school from drop off to dismissal. Pay special attention to "down" times: recess, homeroom, lunch, grace after meals, and hallway traffic between classes. These unstructured times will give you a flavor for a school's culture and values, and a sense of what it would feel like to be a student there. Stop in on a Hebrew language class. Are the students learning modern Hebrew or the more old-fashioned, Ashkenazi Hebrew? Is the school Zionist? No matter what your child's age, sit in on an 8th grade class, particularly in the Humanities. Eighth graders are the final product of the school and the best barometer of what your child will look like when he finishes. Is the average 8th grader a mensch, respectful of peers, capable of speaking in a mature way with adults?

Attend a graduation. No one likes sitting through speeches, but a school's 8th grade graduation does say a great deal about the school. This is especially true if the students give a speech. What are they grateful for? Are they sad or relieved to be leaving? Both emotions are normal, but which one stands out more? Many a parent has been sold on a school because of witnessing a touching graduation ceremony.

Meet with the Head of School. Admissions officers give you a plethora of information, but the heads of school are the true captains of the ship. Their personalities speak volumes about the school. How do you feel after meeting with them? Do they seem genuine? Do they share your philosophy and values? Would you trust them with your child's education?

Look at financials and demographics. With an uncertain economy, a school's financial stability is important, especially you have more than one child. Ask to see the school's enrollment numbers for last five years, as well as any budget numbers you think important. For instance, what percentage of the student body receives financial aid? How heavily does the school rely on fundraising ? How do the numbers in Kindergarten and first grade compare to those in eighth? Some numbers are confidential, but most are not, and transparency is a plus. Also, ask about the demographics of the student body. Do families span income brackets? The religious spectrum? Do they come from a variety of neighborhoods? Parents differ on what peer groups they want for their children, but this will allow you to make an informed decision.

Ask about alumni. What happens to alumni after they graduate, in the short and long run? Most schools are proud to tell you about their graduates' many achievements, and often include information about this on their websites.

Read the mission statement. What topics come first? Excellence in academics? Commitment to mitzvot? Menschlechkeit? Is anything glaringly missing? Long range planning committees, writers and PR professionals put a lot of thought into a mission statement. As with the Torah, every word counts.

Do the five-second test. Open up a school's website, look at it for five seconds, and then close it. What do you remember? This test is often conducted by marketing professionals to help organizations hone their websites because the average time people spend on a webpage is 5.23 seconds. What you remember about a site says a great deal about it. Was it up to date? Were photos mostly of younger children? Was there a sense of joy and vibrancy? Does this school seem prestigious and academic, or loving and nurturing? Trust your gut; a website is a school's "shingle." If the administration doesn't take the time to work at it, then that, too, says something about their overall savvy--or lack thereof.

Listen to word of mouth. This is the most authentic way to find out about a school, and it's usually the strongest tool for recruitment--or attrition. Ask for the names of current parents you might contact and make those phone calls.

Check a school’s social media. Look Internet outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, or a blog. Social media incorporates not only the school’s official posts, but those of their greater web community. Scan through the photos and conversations to get a more unfiltered feel for the atmosphere and culture of the school.

Talk to students. If you follow only one tip from this list, let it be this: Talk to the students you pass in the hallways. Stop them when they're not running late to a class or are surrounded by a posse, and tell them you're considering sending your child to this school. Then ask, "How do you like [insert school name]?" Most of them will be thrilled to talk to you, and what they say on the spur of the moment is usually more telling than anything else you could find out on a school tour or website. If they like school, that will show through.

A longer version of this article first appeared in the July 2012 issue of The Jewish Advocate of Boston. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Learning with the Election

An 8th grader performs a rap routine while
campaigning for Ashkelon.

With the presidential election quickly approaching, election fever has taken over our school. The 7th/8th graders are running an all-school mock election, in which 1st through 8th graders get to vote for different Israeli cities represented by fictitious cats. Each group of 7th/8th graders campaigned for a different city in Israel. The hallways have been plastered with campaign posters, and lunchtime has been quite spirited with "campaigners" popping in to give "campaign speeches."

Giving a stump speech for Beer Sheva

In one 3rd/4th grade class, students used charts and maps showing the distribution of electors for the 2012 Presidential election to solve some fun and challenging electoral college math problems. Did you know that it is possible for a candidate to win the electoral college vote (and thus the presidency) and only win in 11 states? It would have to be the right 11 states, and the students figured out which ones they are.

Another 3rd/4th grade class created election handbooks with information about the general election and its laws and rules. The students learned facts such as: the President and the Vice President cannot be from the same state, you must be at least 35 years old and a natural-born citizen to be eligible to run for President, and how the Democratic and Republican parties got their start.

Election handbooks created by 3rd and 4th graders.

The 5th graders looked at how large a role "swing states" can play in the election, and 6th graders are focusing on the persuasion techniques of campaigning by creating commercials for fictional candidates. Lastly, the school newspaper held a school-wide poll, the results of which are eagerly anticipated.

With all these activities we can confidently say that elections can be fun, and that we are well prepared for the big day next week to roll around.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Life Lessons in the OR

by Mindy Schiller

Open heart surgery - live!

This week our 7th and 8th graders and a smattering of chaperones, including me, had the opportunity to watch open heart surgery. More important, we were able to ask the surgeon—as well as all of the other medical personnel in the OR—any question on our minds throughout the whole process. The program is called “Live From the Heart” and is orchestrated by the Museum of Science and Industry—less than a ten-minute jaunt from Akiba-Schechter. Science teachers apply to participate in this program years in advance, and yesterday I got to see why.

Our first indication that this might not be the traditional field trip was the pre-packaged breath mints waiting for each of us at our place settings. These, we were instructed by our guide, should be saved for when we became nauseous. (Note: he said “when,” not “if.”) The rustling sound from students gleefully opening breath mint wrappers suddenly grew silent.

Examining the clamping device that holds
open the chest during open heart surgery.

The actual surgery took place at Advocate Christ Medical Center—not at the museum—and we watched via a satellite feed. A rather large group of 9th-12th grade anatomy students were doing the same from the auditorium of their high school in Orland Park, and the surgeon would often toggle back and forth between us and the anatomy students to take questions. How he was able to perform open heart surgery while keeping up a steady stream of conversation is beyond me.

And so we watched—at times tentatively, at times aggressively, leaning forward in our chairs—as bypass surgery was performed on a 67-year-old diabetes patient with coronary heart disease who had just recently suffered a heart attack. We watched as he was covered the patient with iodine wrapping, giving his skin an eerie plastic appearance, watched as his sternum was sawed open and the sides of his chest were clamped apart, watched as the surgeon punctured the patient’s pericardium and yellow fluid gushed out. We saw a saphenous vein harvested from the patient’s leg to be graphed to the heart because the existing artery was 95% blocked. We saw the heart iced and given potassium injections so that it would stop pumping, saw the heart-and-lung machine take over, saw the heart induced to start pumping on its own again, and saw the heart-and-lung-machine grow quiet. And we clapped, finally, when the surgeon sewed up the patient’s sternum with wire, completing his work.

Following along with the surgery and learning
about the parts of the heart

All the while, students asked questions.

"Won’t the pathogens in the air harm the heart?”

“Why doesn’t the heart reject the vein from the leg? Isn’t that sort of like tricking the body?”

“Does every heart have that much fat covering it? Why don’t you cut it away?”

And perhaps the most telling question of all: “What made you decide to become a heart surgeon, and what do you have to do?”

I'm not generally a huge fan of "career days," but this is the kind of career day I like. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if half of our class takes up some form of medicine when they grow up. Not because it’s sexy and not because it makes a lot of money, but because, man, it’s just so damn cool.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ancient Egypt Meets Modern Advertising

6th graders make the case for kohl (eyeliner using in
Ancient Egypt).
How can Ancient Egypt be modern? Our 6th graders found out recently when they studied what kind of cosmetics the ancient Egyptians had. They were shocked to discover that eyeliner (kohl), eyeshadow, deodorant, anti-wrinkle cream, and perfume were available 5,000 years ago.

Students were charged with picking a product and creating a commercial for it. First they researched these cosmetic products' origins and how they were used in Egypt (Hint: Don't go worshipping at the Temple at Karnak without smelling fresh as a lotus flower; the gods will not be pleased!). Then the students wrote scripts for their commercials and acted them out for each other.

The funniest part--which, perhaps, was lost on the kids--was how well-attuned they are to marketing techniques. Two commercials made use of charts, showing how their brand beat out the other leading brands. After a secret ballot vote, it seemed that anti-wrinkle cream was the product this class would most readily buy. At only two bushels of wheat per bottle, it was quite a bargain compared with what one tends to shell out for modern day beauty products.

Anti-wrinkle cream won the commercials contest...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Children's Books for the High Holidays

Holidays like Chanukah and Passover lend themselves more to storytelling than the High Holidays, and yet these picture book authors have managed to package the more abstract themes of Teshuva and making a new beginning in books you can reread with your children every year.

Even Higher by Eric. A. Kimmel - Here picture book master Eric A. Kimmel  retells Peretz's beautiful Jewish folktale about a rabbi who, the shtetl people believe, performs a miracle every year before Rosh Hashanah.

New Year at the Pier by April Halprin Wayland - A story about a boy names Izzy, whose favorite part of Rosh Hashanah is Tashlich, a ceremony in which people apologize for the mistakes they made in the previous year. If only it weren't for the one thing Izzy doesn't want to say out loud...

The Hardest Word by Jacqueline Jules - Ziz, a bird who lived long ago, is so big and clumsy that he can't keep from bumping into things. When a tree he knocks over destroys the children's garden, he asks God to help him fix things. "Bring me the hardest word," God instructs him, and the Ziz flies off to search...

How the Rosh Hashana Challah Became Round by Sylvia B. Epstein - This book will answer several questions at the Rosh Hashana table!

Sammy Spider's First Rosh Hashana by Sylvia A. Rouss - This has got to be the ultimate book for toddlers to get into Rosh Hashana.

Talia and the Rude Vegetables by Linda Elovitz Marshall - The Rosh Hoshanah theme is background for an endearing story about a little city girl who mistakes "root" for "rude" and tries to bring her grandma some "rude" vegetables from the garden.

Gershon's Monster by Eric A. Kimmel - This is a great book to read to older kids. An otherwise devout guy is very rude and never apologizes. On Rosh Hashana he always sweeps his sins into the sea. Until, one day, they come back to haunt him...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Buddies Spread Good Cheer with Rosh Hashana Cards

Rosh Hashana is around the corner and our buddies, which means 1st/2nd graders and 6th - 8th graders sat down together last week to create colorful Happy New Year's cards for the Chicago Mitzvah Campaign, which in turn sends them out to the needy along with a Rosh Hashana goodie bag.

Not only were the students learning how to make their cards pop up, they got quite creative in decorating them with the symbols of the holiday. Most importantly, however, we hope the fun they had creating these cards will bring some good cheer to the recipients. Watch the short video below to see them in action:

Shana tova!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How to Ease Separation Anxiety

At the Akiba-Schechter Preschool
(photo by Matt Dinerstein)
“Fake it until you make it.” That is one piece of advice Kelli Harris, associate preschool director at Akiba-Schechter, gives parents who are leaving their two-year-old at preschool for the first time. “Even if you’re uneasy about leaving your child, don’t show it,” she said. “Cry in the hallway. Kids know when their parents feel unsure, and that makes them feel unsure themselves.”

Based on her 10 years of experience teaching preschool, Harris says easing separation anxiety boils down to 3 Cs:

Cooperation. Trust your child’s teacher. Even if you don’t know that teacher well yet, trust that she’s been doing her job for a while, and rely on her experience. See the teacher as a resource to help you through the process. Most likely, she’s been through it many times. Ask for her advice. Keep in mind that your child’s teacher wants to work with you. You’re a team.

Clarity. If you’ve been telling your child school is a good thing, and he’s going to have so much fun there, then don’t tell him you’re sorry you’re leaving him. That is confusing. When you tell your child you’re leaving, leave. Say goodbye and don’t stick around. Actions need to follow words.

Consistency. Stick with the program. Leave even if your child is crying. According to Harris, saying goodbye is the hard part, so make it swift but something your child can count on. Knowing what will happen is comforting. Most kids, Harris says, are done crying by the time you get to your car. But never just leave. Saying goodbye is an important part of the routine you’re trying to establish. Similarly, be on time when you pick up your child. Being the only one left after all the other children have been picked up is scary, especially during the first few days. Once your child understands the school routine and is comfortable with his teachers, a parent showing up late is less of an issue.

For most kids, Harris has found, separation anxiety is not an issue after two weeks. If your child is having a particularly hard time, find a classroom activity she likes, and head for that when you arrive. Get her situated and comfortable before you leave. Take that time to read her favorite book or get her set up at the easel. Bringing a lovie, like a favorite blanket, might also help, but check on classroom policy first.

Leaving your child at school for the first time is hard for parents and child alike, but minding the 3 Cs — namely, being cooperative, clear and consistent — will ease the process for you and your child. Pretty soon your child will have adjusted to the big world of school while you might still feel that little twinge at how grown up he already is.

This article was written by Annette Gendler and originally published in the Fall 2012 issue of Parent to Parent, the quarterly newsletter of the Neighborhood Parents Network of Chicago. Republished with permission.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Planning a Kosher Trip to Non-Kosher Land

by Bill Coleman, History, Math and Mishna Teacher

A picnic on one of the 7th grade trips to Springfield,

Trip planning always requires some effort, but for those of us who keep kosher, it can be a real challenge. In addition to leading the annual 7th grade trip to Springfield, I’ve been involved in one school trip to Israel and several to New York City. Here are a few things I’ve learned about providing kosher food to a student group.

The very first issue is the choice of destination. I probably won’t shock you by revealing that kashrut is easier to deal with in Israel and in New York, than it is in Springfield, Illinois. Several times I contemplated taking classes to Washington, D.C. rather than New York, and each time I decided that the absence of kosher restaurants downtown -- all but one were in Maryland -- made a week-long group trip too difficult. (As an aside, by far the easiest European destination for the kashrut observant tourist is Paris.)

On the other hand, problems can arise even in Israel. On that trip I had made a special request to have a meal at Burger King and, to do so while the group was in the Galil/Golan area, we took a lengthy detour to Kiryat Shemona, where we pulled up to a mall and hungrily clamored in for Whoppers. The kids were lined up to order as I scanned the wall looking for the Teudat Kashrut (kosher certificate). None to be seen! On inquiry I was assured, “Don’t worry, the food is all kosher, it’s just that we’re open on Shabbat.” Argh! Luckily, there was exactly one kosher restaurant in the mall, and it was pretty good. But the lesson was: Double check the kashrut ahead of time. Don’t take things for granted.

Since there are no kosher restaurants in Springfield, Illinois, it’s necessary to pack food and figure out in advance where to eat. Aside from the motel, that means locating picnic tables. Fortunately, the Illinois Capitol Visitors Center provides plenty and they are sheltered, which is a darned good thing given that we’ve been rained (and snowed!) upon as often as not.

A hearty and kosher Chinese dinner, ready to eat!

So, what to serve? Since heating food would be difficult, I order cold meat salads for the main meal that we bring along in coolers. The ones from Tein Li Chow taste great, are filling, and have the delightful quality of being ready to serve straight out of the cooler. We have sandwiches for lunch and generally plan to grill hot dogs for the second dinner. I always choose a motel which includes a continental breakfast and bring extra breakfast pastries in case the ones provided lack a Hechsher.

One of the traditions of the Springfield trip is that I treat the kids to ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, which is kosher and thus allows us to eat out, even in otherwise non-kosher Springfield.  How did that tradition arise? Our very first overnight trip was the time it snowed, and therefore grilling outdoors for dinner seemed really unwise. I decided to skip dinner and drive home early, but the kids had to eat something, right? And they will hardly say no to ice cream even in cold weather. From such misfortunes are traditions born.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

School Trip: Wandering in Lincoln's Footsteps

by Bill Coleman, History, Math and Mishna Teacher

This year's 7th grade poses at the Lincoln Museum.

Several years ago, Akiba-Schechter parent State Senator Ira Silverstein approached us with a proposal to initiate a school trip to Springfield, the Illinois state capital. The initial idea was to emulate many of the other Jewish day schools by conducting a day trip to see the state government in action and to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

Although I had lived in Illinois for twenty-five years, I’d never visited Springfield, so I was happy to organize the trip and see the sights myself. It quickly became apparent that there were too many interesting things to see and do, and that a one-day trip would be uncomfortably rushed. After all, the round-trip drive to and from Chicago alone takes about seven hours. An overnight trip seemed to make more sense and that is what we decided to do.

Visiting with Secretary of State Jesse White in his office.

Originally the 7th and 8th grades went together biennially, during the year that I was teaching them American History. Last year, thankfully, the school was able to reinstitute an 8th grade graduation trip to Israel, which was successfully repeated this year, so we made the Springfield trip an annual event for the 7th grade. In a way, it serves as a small prelude for the Israel trip.

Visiting with State Senator Ira Silverstein.

The educational objectives of the trip are obvious. Visiting the Illinois State Capitol building serves as both a civics lesson and a lesson in Illinois history. In past years we were fortunate to have an Akiba-Schechter preschool parent serving as a high official in the Governor’s office, and Senator Silverstein continues to serve in the General Assembly, so our visits have always been a little more intimate than most.

Rubbing the nose of the Lincoln bust at the cemetery.

In addition to the spectacular Lincoln Museum, Springfield abounds with Lincoln historical sites, including his home, his law office, the restored Old State Capitol building where he practiced law and sat in the General Assembly, and his tomb. On the drive down from Chicago there is also Lincoln's New Salem Historic State Site, a state park featuring a replica of the entire village which Lincoln called home during the 1830s. Visiting these sites and “walking in Lincoln’s footsteps” lends an immediacy to him that transcends books and school lessons.

Stopping at Lincoln's New Salem Historical State Site.

What’s less obvious is the trip’s social value. The class spends two long days together, and I like to think that it’s a valuable bonding experience. Spending the night at the motel is a big deal, as is staying up for a late movie. We do everything we can to make the trip both memorable and fun, including treating the kids to ice cream at Baskin-Robbins (see upcoming blog post on how to organize a kosher trip to non-kosher land).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Literary Magazine Launch!

We are proud to announce that we just mailed out contributors' copies of Akiba-Schechter's very first literary magazine, The Jammed Locker, showcasing art work, poetry and stories by students from grades 1-8.

We take much pride in fostering community at Akiba-Schechter; students of all ages can work together to create something spectacular as they did with this journal. As usual, the whole is much more than the sum of the parts. The artwork of a 2nd grader enhances the beauty of a poem written by an 8th grader, as the painting of a 7th grader can mirror the feelings of a 5th grader. And the Creative Writing Club came up with the magazine's fabulous name. Seeing their work published is of course a great accomplishment for all contributors.

Here's a teaser of the kind of work you will see and read in the magazine:

Master Artist Study by Jake Rosenzweig (5th)
Inspired by Amedeo Modigliani's
"Jeanne Hebuterne"

Aya Hamlish (6th)

I Am From

I am from the many who got killed.
I am from the burning books that lay on the streets.
I am from the bloody streets of Hell
and from the trees that hear cries and screams of help.
I am from the long winters that carry on.
I am from the sweet smells that waft through their air.
I am from the songs that are still to be sung.
I am from a chain of life that will carry on.
I am from the hard and happy times
that make pain rush from my mind to my heart.
I am from the many minds that are like one.
I am from the trees that breathe in death and breathe out life.

Inspired by George Ella Lyon's “Where I’m From”

While all families in grades 1-8 will receive a copy in their packet for the new school year, the issue can also be viewed and purchased here:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Clean Up is a Big Job

Summer is cleaning time at school. When the kids leave, lockers get emptied, and unclaimed Lost & Found items are donated. The painters come in and freshen up the walls. Long-term maintenance projects are tackled.

But long before all that happens, our custodian Jefferson takes care of the everyday clean up and set up. And that is a big job! Just before preschool let out, the three- and four-year-olds in the Purple Room recognized Jefferson's many contributions by creating a life-size rendering of him, including the keys and walkie talkie he always carries. In a big thank you note, they captured all the different ways he's helped them out, such as:

  • One day Jeff brought a ladder to our class and looked for Asher's airplane on top of the cubbies - thank you, Jeff!
  • One time when Siena went potty and water came out the toilet, Jeff fixed the potty and no  more water! Thank you, Jeff!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Learning All About Butterflies

The first and second graders in Mrs. Rapp's class have been studying butterflies, which is always an appropriate spring activity, and special fun if the butterflies actually hatch before the school year wraps up. Here the board outside their classroom shows models of the different butterflies the kids have been studying, complete with requisite cocoons.

Each child has been studying a particular North American butterfly. Some favorite things they learned:

  • Butterflies don't have ears. Question: How do they hear? With their antennas!
  • Some fly to Mexico, mate there and their children fly back.
  • Others don't migrate and live for only a few weeks.
  • What places on Earth don't have butterflies?*

Here a peek at their butterfly farm where they are raising painted laides. Each child "adopted" a butterfly, and the chrysalis is labeled with his or her name.

Demonstrating how a butterfly actually comes out of the chrysalis. (Toilet paper rolls have all kinds of uses...)

Not only does each student have a butterfly, the class also adopted a question mark butterfly through the North American Butterfly Association. The question mark butterfly was recommended by the Association because, they reasoned, kids ask a lot of questions.

*Answer to the question of where there are no butterflies to be found on Earth?

Antarctica and the Arctic

Friday, May 25, 2012

Preschoolers Sell their Crafts to Raise Funds for Iguana

Learning to raise funds starts early at Akiba-Schechter. Last Friday, two preschool classes of enterprising three- and four-year-olds, namely the Peach and Blue Room Afternoon Explorers, sold beautiful things they created themselves to raise money to donate to an iguana at the Shedd Aquarium.

As part of their habitat studies this year, the kids had voted on supporting the iguana, whose species is on the list of becoming endangered. Rumor has it a monkey was also in the running.

They distributed flyers and made posters to announce their sale, and on Friday afternoon, set up a boutique in the school’s entrance atrium, offering colorful fans, bookmarks, jewelry boxes, chocolate candies, toy snakes and lunch bags.

They proudly raised $362.08, and this Thursday took a field trip to the Shedd Aquarium to present their donation to the Iguana Research Program.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Keeping a Commonplace Book

Commonplace Book Cover by 8th grader Leah

Mark Twain had one, Ralph Waldo Emerson had one, and now our 5th - 8th graders have one, too: a commonplace book. The practice of recording what you have read by noting a passage that struck you, and then commenting why it impressed you, has been popular throughout the ages. In a way, a commonplace book is a special kind of journal, and could even be seen as a precursor to blogging.

Student Commonplace Book Entry

Our students have been keeping their own commonplace books for the past few weeks, selecting a minimum of one passage or quotation per week from their independent reading, and writing a paragraph about why they found this passage interesting, engaging, and meaningful to them.

In this way, they are not only encouraged to read and get credit for their reading, but they might have a journal that they can page through many years later and recall those days in middle school, when a book like Hattie Big Sky was fascinating, or the next issue of Sports Illustrated was eagerly awaited.

Friday, May 11, 2012

An Art Gallery Opening in the Kindergarten

Last week, the Kindergarten hosted an art gallery opening, inviting the entire school, parents and caregivers, to showcase their study of master artists. Like any proper gallery opening, it included refreshments, here served under a Jackson Pollock inspired canvas.

Studying an artist like Jackson Pollock involved getting messy. Creating a splatter painting meant getting into all kinds of weird positions, such as hovering over a canvas in Kindergarten teacher Jill Kohl's strong arms, or using unlikely tools, see below.

The toy car turned out to be the favorite tool!

Working like Michelangelo when he was painting the Sistine Chapel meant lying under a table.

The Kindergarten's study of master artists also involved sculpture - here a piece inspired by Michelangelo's working from a slab of marble.

Nature pieces inspired by another grand master of the Italian Renaissance - Leonardo Da Vinci.

A table display of books about master artists and painting tools offered opportunities for gallery guests to explore.

With all this work, every Kindergartner obviously has become an artist in his or her own right.

Exploring Georgia O'Keefe's Cloud Painting.

Gallery guests read up on the stories the children thought might go with these famous paintings.

Sadly, the Kindergarten's rendition of the scream didn't bring in $119.9 million, but everybody was still intrigued.

Nevertheless, the Kindergarten Art Gallery did include some commerce - after all, artists do have to sell their work to finance new endeavors!